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March 24, 2014 9:08 AM   Subscribe

This is a guy who really respects the writer's words. Very nice.
posted by grubi at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

And man, his performance of the soliloquy at the end of the video... fucking priceless. One of the few times you get a sense of Macbeth as being empty, rather than just sad or tired. I got chills.
posted by grubi at 9:28 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh man, come for the amazing analysis and stay for the great soliloquy by Ian McKellen at the end.

Fantastic, thanks for sharing!
posted by Carillon at 9:39 AM on March 24, 2014

This is really cool. McKellen says that as an actor you need to deeply read and understand your lines in order to make your body and voice inhabit the right space. Then, when he's done analyzing and it cuts over to the actual soliloquy, the reverse also happens -- his analysis has given the audience (or at least me) a deeper connection to Macbeth, and it's all the more chilling to watch.
posted by swift at 10:06 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Holy moly, this is complete gold.

I learned more about the act of acting in those ten minutes than I learned that year I thought I'd take some drama classes at University.
posted by Sphinx at 10:08 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hot potato, off his drawers, Puck to make amends! Ouch!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:15 AM on March 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ian McKellen: If we were to draw a graph of my process, of my method, it would be something like this: Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian, action, wizard "You shall not pass!", cut. Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian.
(No disrespect to Sir Ian or The Bard, I just can't see this and not think of that Extras scene.)
posted by fight or flight at 10:16 AM on March 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

This was an amazing find. So much to learn in just 12 minutes with this man.

This piece was the first soliloquy that my father challenged me to learn in (IIRC) sixth grade. I wish he could have seen this inspiring piece of film.

I bow to Sir Ian.
posted by blurker at 10:28 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

For comparison, here is Patrick Stewart's version from the 2010 MacBeth movie.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:45 AM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh man, I was lucky enough to see that Patrick Stewart production when they were performing it at BAM years ago.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:51 AM on March 24, 2014

If you want to see Ian McKellen do Shakespeare at length, there's a tremendous DVD version of the RSC's Trevor Nunn production of Macbeth with McKellen in the title role and Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth. It's done on a bare stage in the round with minimal costuming and props, and it's fantastic.

(Small tangent: Many years ago, Mrs. Example and I went to see a production of Macbeth put on by a local community theatre company. It was...not very good, and we later came up with a drinking game that would have made the entire thing much better--but I digress. One of our group had never seen the play before, and he was completely and utterly lost. The next week, both for his benefit and to get the taste of the production out of our mouths, we got together and watched the McKellen DVD. We had to keep pausing it because he kept saying "Oh, now I understand what's going on!".)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 11:21 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ok, I loved this, and I also loved the Stewart version, but both missed the 'sort of joke, sort of not joke' at the beginning which I think is one of the most important parts. The whole thesis of the soliloquy is acted out in relation between the characters before it is spoken on stage by Macbeth.

See, people seem to read the line 'she should have died hereafter' as if he's saying 'oh, she should have died already and saved me all this trouble'. But he's not saying that; that's not what 'hereafter' means. He's saying she should have died in the future.

So why is he saying that? He's not sad that she's dead, doesn't care if she's alive. He's saying it because he feels social obliged to do so. He's loosing track of his very ability to feel at all, and that's profoundly disbursing to the underlings he's shortly to be raging at uncontrollably.

Here's how it plays out in my imagination: (sorry, this isn't an ideal format to express a theatrical idea)
a cry of a woman (discovering the body of the queen)

M (mildly curious): What is that noise?

S (alarmed): It is the cry of women, my good lord.

S goes out, M talks for a bit about how he no longer feels anything at all.

S comes in again, petrified. The king is about to kill him in rage and grief.

S: The queen....


S: ... my lord ...

S can hardly get it out, the next line will begin an uncontrollable violent rage.

S: is... ... ... dead.

M stares at him blankly. S opens his clenched eyes and regards the silent monarch. He isn't sure the king has heard him. He's just formulating his next line when...

M realises that something is expected of him. He tries his best to reconfigure his face into an appropriate image of grief.

M: Ah, uh... She should have died hereafter!

He turns his face away and waves away S, who is at once relieved (no rage) and profoundly disturbed (no emotional reaction at all). S slinks away.

M (to us): There would have been a time for such a word... (meaning the line he's just spoken)
I think it's actually a bit of a broad, comic moment. This serves to heighten the very serous stuff to come, because it sets it in relief. But it also sugars the pill of a very bleak realisation about M's psychology. The 'joke' plops into our brain like one of those pills that fizz in water: it goes in easy, and then gives us several moments in which the horror of it effervesces away from the disintegrating humour.
posted by Dreadnought at 11:23 AM on March 24, 2014 [15 favorites]

I just saw McKellen and Stewart in Waiting for Godot, and both were great - but McKellen was sublime as Estragon. The man is a treasure.
posted by scolbath at 11:55 AM on March 24, 2014

That was completely enthralling. Thanks, Navelgazer!
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 12:14 PM on March 24, 2014

This came from John Barton's series of videos called "Playing Shakespeare." It's FANTASTIC.
posted by geryon at 12:41 PM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was directing some work by Derek Walcott once and had a chance to get him to come in to watch a rehearsal. Afterward he and I were talking about Macbeth, and how very, very important it is to get the actors to put just the right stresses on the right words, and pauses in the right places. For instance, there is this passage, spoken by Macbeth right after he has killed his king:

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

The interesting thing about this bit is how the actor approaches the last three words. If you stress the words equally, or a little sing-songy, "making the GREEN one RED," then Macbeth is saying that his blood will turn a sea red. But if you put just the slightest pause after green: "making the green, one red" then what he's saying is he'll make ALL of the seas a single color: that of the blood on his hands. It turns his guilt from the murder of a man into the assassination of a god (if we can bend a metaphor a bit and imagine that the kind of Scotland was the representative of God.)
posted by nushustu at 12:48 PM on March 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

I thought I had a deep appreciation of Shakespeare and knowledge, however this has taken me by surprise. The dissection of the language as performed by McKellen is scientific and ablaze with insight. The discussion of how clear understanding on the actor's part, gives way to the entire gestalt of the performance, that is indeed golden. I know this speech by heart, and think of it often and I never realized how much the full spectrum of time is contained therein, which takes me in a loop to the start of Eliot's Four Quartets.
posted by Oyéah at 12:48 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

McKellan and Stewart were both great as Hamlet.

Also great is McKellan and Stewart talking to each other in bowler hats.
posted by cacofonie at 2:08 PM on March 24, 2014

And now we see how Sir Ian influenced Sir Patrick's portrayal of Macbeth, particularly in that soliloquy.

So much love!
posted by blurker at 3:48 PM on March 24, 2014

I remember seeing this during my A-Level studies, and it transformed my understanding of the speech and my appreciation of the play, and gave me an enduring respect for McKellan. Still my favourite soliloquy in my favourite Shakespeare play.
posted by Hogshead at 3:50 PM on March 24, 2014

Sir Edwin: Oh yes. Othello's a bugger too, mind you, especially the cleaning up afterwards, but he has nine hundred and forty-one words less than Hamlet. On the other hand, the coon's got more pauses, sixty-two quite long ones, as I recall. But then they're not so tricky, you see. You don't have to do so much during them.

Alan: You don't.

Sir Edwin: No. No, not really. And they give you time to think what sort of face you're going to pull during the next speech so that it fits the words you're saying as far as possible.
posted by Trochanter at 4:06 PM on March 24, 2014

Great link. Thanks, Navelgazer.

It's no wonder McKellen was so frustrated with the greenscreen filming in The Hobbit.
posted by homunculus at 6:34 PM on March 24, 2014

Patrick Stewart's version of this speech is considerably more anchored in time, given over his dead love's body. It adds an earthly complement to the air of the speech making it more tender and sorrowful than distracted, as it is usually spoken.
posted by Oyéah at 6:48 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oyéah: in case you're unaware, in that production the "nurses" you see bringing Lady MacBeth's body in are revealed very early on to be the Weird Sisters, so that sinister element informs the speech as well.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:40 PM on March 24, 2014

And I should ad that the arc of MacBeth (my favorite) to me is that of the man running towards the precipice as fast as he can, believing he can make the jump to the other side. This soliloquy is where he realizes that he cannot make it, and also has too much momentum to stop himself, and finally that were in not for this moment's hesitation, maybe he could have made it after all.

That's my take.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:43 PM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Macbeth was a set text for my English GCE, thirty cough years ago. It's the only one of those texts that has stuck with me - I quite enjoyed it as a fifteen year old, but it sunk in deeper than I realised at the time. It remains, as schoolboy encounters so often do, a lifelong favourite.

Every so often, i return to it, and every time that happens I am drawn in deeper, always just enough to feel the uncharted ocean grow more huge. Getting older, too, one feels ever more inane in the face of the profound.

This clip made those youthful shores recede further and the idea that there is ever an end - except one - more foolish. It's truly terrifying. That vast oceanic loneliness. Except no, not alone: Shakespeare was here, and through acting of this quality is here still.

Thank you for that.
posted by Devonian at 8:24 PM on March 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Here's more acting advice from Sir Ian (h/t @fight or flight).
posted by Tristram Shandy, Gentleman at 8:30 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fry and Laurie on time in Shakespeare.
posted by juiceCake at 9:00 AM on March 25, 2014

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